Wednesday, May 18, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!

A few years ago my wife and I were in the process of selling our house, and as part of that process we were required to fill out a “Seller’s Statement of Property Condition” that lists any issues that may exist with the house that the prospective buyer should be aware of. We tried to be diligent and honest in filling out this form. We still feel this is the best thing to do, but we found that items we stated on this form raised questions and concerns substantially greater than warranted by the conditions we described, and resulted in price reductions or extra work larger than were warranted for “problems” that almost certainly would not have even been noticed had we not disclosed them. We got through all of it, but it was stressful and caused us to lose money. The moral of the story: be honest and get hammered, or, more succinctly, no good deed goes unpunished!

My daughter encountered a similar situation in one of her jobs. She tries to go out of her way to help people who have critical needs or are encountering difficult problems. She puts in many extra hours so that she doesn’t fall behind on her own work, ends up with an overflowing plate of “highest priority” tasks to do with insufficient time to do them (see When Everything Is High Priority, Nothing Is High Priority!), and then gets chastised by the same people who asked her to “do them a favor”. Again, no good deed goes unpunished!

This phenomenon happens all the time. You see a problem, report it, and you end up being called the bad guy rather than the person who caused the problem. You stop by a car disabled at the side of the road and get yelled at by the person you are trying to help, or get hit by debris from another car passing by at that time. You’re a doctor just walking on the sidewalk when a total stranger drops to the sidewalk. You administer medical aid to help the person, only to end up getting sued when problems arise that existed before you stopped and were not a consequence of your actions. No good deed goes unpunished! It’s almost enough to make you act like a turtle and withdraw into your shell and let the world pass you by.

How about at your workplace?

  • What happens if you develop project schedule estimates with realistic milestones, intervals, dependencies, etc., and end up with timeframes the powers that be don’t like? Are you praised for your diligent and honest efforts to produce a schedule that truly makes sense and establishes a realistic prediction of the project outcome? Maybe, if you have enlightened management. More likely you will be told to change things to make the schedule come out the way they’d like, without, of course, changing features, functions, quality, etc. You’ll be told, “Those tasks shouldn’t take that long!”, or “You don’t really need that amount of testing!”, or similar pressures to force you to bend to management’s will. If you push back, then you’re told that you just don’t see the big picture, or you don’t recognize just how important this is, or you’re not acting like a team player (see The Schedule Estimate Extortion Game). Do your work credibly and thoroughly and you’re the problem! No good deed goes unpunished!
  • What happens if you are asked to give your honest opinion of something potentially controversial in a meeting, and then you do so, but your opinion is not “politically correct” or in line with that of upper management? Do you get congratulated for your courage in speaking out on something you know many others agree with you on, but are afraid to say? Unlikely! More likely, you are told you are simply wrong, get reamed out by management, and you have put yourself in a bad position now and into the future. No good deed goes unpunished!
You get the idea. So what can you do to avoid getting punished for doing good deeds?
  • Recognize that you know the people you are dealing with. When someone you implicitly and completely trust asks you to help them out, do so with the confidence that this person will not then turn around and blame you if and when something goes wrong. If they do, then that implicit trust is misplaced and you need to rethink your relationship with that person (see Trust Me, I’m Not Like The Others!).
  • When someone you don’t really know or don’t really trust requests you to do them a favor, don’t allow yourself to become a chump! Make it clear at the outset (and even document it in an email or other document if necessary) that you are attempting to do a good deed for this person, and that you are not responsible for what unfolds as a result of your attempt to perform this good deed. Make sure they understand this completely, and if they go ahead anyway and try to shift the blame to you, show others the agreement you reached in advance. Letting others (e.g. your boss) know in advance that you are attempting to help this person out can also help to immunize you from getting blamed or being punished for your attempted good deed.
  • Be willing to stand up to assaults when you are trying to help someone out. Like the old saying, “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part!”, you should be able to state, “Don’t blame me for trying to help you out on your problem!” Be strong! Don’t allow yourself to become the patsy! [see Your Problem Is Not My Emergency!]

Next, take these suggestions to heart when someone does you a favor. Don’t later go back and try to blame them for problems that may have come up while they were trying to help you. It was your request for help, so it shouldn't be their responsibility in the first place. The responsibility is yours and you should own it, not foist it off on others or blame them when things don’t work out (see Show True Professionalism!  and You Reap What You Sow!). Be a man (or woman)!

How this works out often depends on whether those in command are rational, logical and/or reasonable, or irrational, illogical, unreasonable and/or don’t really care.  If they’re the former, they will generally understand and support you. If they’re the latter, you’re likely screwed. But at least you've learned a good life lesson. Going into a situation with your eyes wide open can help you to avoid learning the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished!

Copyright 2011 Workplace Insanity, All Rights Reserved

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